Should Artists Disclose Their Use of AI? One Artist’s Work Sparked a Web3 Debate

BY Lorepunk

December 15, 2023

Digital artist Lila Jane was the focus of widespread debate across the web3 art community on X, as artists alleged that she had misrepresented her “La Vague de Vénus,”—which sold yesterday (Dec. 14) for a winning bid of 1.5 ETH—by falsifying the details of its creation process. In its metadata on Manifold, Jane had referred to the piece as a digital oil painting and had posted close-ups of the work in a now-deleted work-in-progress post on X.

Stephan Duquesnoy, a Netherlands-based procedural 3D artist who worked for years as a digital art instructor at the University of Utrecht, took a close look at these detail images and determined that, in his view, they weren’t images of a work in progress; he believed that the piece had been created with the help of AI tools—and that brushstrokes had been added to the detail images after the fact in an attempt to obfuscate the use of AI.

Stephan Duquesnoy’s analysis of Lila Jane’s artwork

“It gets weird when we look at the WIP. Every rough brushstroke has its own artifact. Even the marks in the retouched area look different from the retouching. It’s quite clear the marks were added after the retouching,” he wrote in a Dec. 14 thread on X. “Experienced artists don’t need forensic tools to see this. We see it instantly. And there is nothing wrong with adjusting images, collaging, retouching, etc. But we can be honest about the timeline,” he wrote.

As a former educator, Duquesnoy is no stranger to the obfuscation of methods–he’s seen students hide their tracks long before AI was in widespread use. “Throughout my career, I have seen this happen with 3D renders, photo paint-overs etc. And as a lecturer, there were always a small number of students that did this if they couldn’t finish their homework on time,” he told us in an interview.

He cautioned others not to send the artist “any hate,” calling the incident “a learning opportunity” in his posts, but reactions to the alleged obfuscation and the scale and volume of opprobrium that the 19-year-old woman artist received dominated NFT art Twitter for hours.

Many expressed frustration as artists like Cath Simard and Alpha Centauri Kid bid on the work. “There is nothing wrong with using AI, I use it too. Problem becomes when you are pretending to be a painter when you’re actually just using AI…Why are suddenly many big names in the space supporting this and ignoring what it actually is for some reason?” asked digital artist Nebojša Subotić.

“The artist identifies herself as a painter and also identified the piece as a digital oil painting. I would have preferred transparency of course and I am disappointed. I will personally be waiting for her to speak up before drawing definitive conclusions,” wrote Simard.

Batsoupyum, an anonymous collector, felt a bright line had been crossed. “On AI art, which I love when done well: The default is that you DO NOT use AI in your work. If you do use AI, simply disclose it. If you use AI and do not disclose it, you’re finished,” he posted.

“If you’re upset at misrepresentation, we see you. If you’re using this opportunity to bash an entire medium and all its artists, we see you.”

Claire Silver

While initial concerns were about Jane’s transparency around her process, the discussion may have been amplified by general sensitivity to the use of AI in art. Notable AI-collaborative artist Claire Silver touched on this in a series of comments on X.

“If you’re upset at misrepresentation, we see you. If you’re using this opportunity to bash an entire medium and all its artists, we see you,” she posted. Silver empathized with Jane, reflecting on her own initial hesitancy to acknowledge the use of AI in her work. “The hate for AI makes it hard for new collaborators to disclose. I struggled with this at first. If you use AI you’re a pioneer—be proud of it,” she wrote.

Others also focused on speaking out against bullying Jane. “If you think shaming, harassing, and bombarding people on the internet somehow puts you on the correct side of things, I’m sorry to say, but you might actually be the shitty person in that equation,” said artist Fernando Samalot.

Although Jane removed her X posts about “Venus,” the piece was collected by an art collector and Council of Luci member known as FrankieDTankie, sparking speculation that the winning bid from Frankie–and others from notable artists–was made out of personal support for a friend—not the merit of the work.

Simard, who has met Jane personally, reached out to her privately and supported her in making a statement on X yesterday evening.

“I want to apologize for the upsetting environment the lack of transparency regarding my piece’s mediums have created. I feel deeply sorry by my lack of full process transparency, resulting in confusion. My piece was labeled on manifold as a digital oil painting, when I should have also included my use of midjourney—it was wrong to market these artworks as fully handcrafted. Going forward, if midjourney is integrated, despite fear of its controversy, I will be clear in my process,” Jane wrote.

Debates around the use of AI in art have broader implications, especially as the rapid evolution of the technology may make identifying works that were created with AI increasingly challenging. “In the future, when we can’t tell the difference between what’s real and AI. It will be historically important as a timestamp to mention if it’s created with AI,” artist and educator Niamh Aughney told us.

In the opinion of many artists, the best way forward is to be open—and let collectors decide what resonates. One new artist, who is about to launch a collection that includes AI in its process, has been thinking deeply about this.

“I’m in favor of clarity and transparency, always. It was clear when building my collection that I would tell people that the images include AI and that I knew some parties would outright reject the work (and thus the greater project and concept) as a result. From the collector’s viewpoint, whether they care if it’s AI or not, they’ve become accustomed to seeing the medium used by the artist—or it at least not being a secret. This is a case where I favor the norm because it benefits the collector/viewer and can engage them in a conversation with the artist, whether they’re pro or anti-AI,” he told nft now.

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